CHANGES TO ILLINOIS LAW ALLOWS SCHOOLS TO SUSPEND STUDENTS FOR ON-LINE MISCONDUCT

Beginning January 12, 2011, Illinois schools will have the right to expel or suspend students for gross misconduct or disobedience committed using electronic means.

In some ways, the revised law only reflects what many school districts already have in place. For example, Evanston Township High School’s policy manual allows discipline if “a student’s personal Internet expression, such as a threatening message to another student or a violent website, creates a likelihood of material disruption of the school’s operations, that student may face school discipline and criminal penalties.”

The revised School Code also adds a section regarding on-line threats. A student may be suspended for up to ten days or expelled for up to two years if:

“i) The student has been determined to have made an explicit threat on an internet website against a school employee, a student, or any school-related personnel;
ii) The Internet website through which the threat was made is a site that was accessible within the school at the time the threat was made or was available to third parties who worked or studied within the school grounds at the time the threat was made;
iii) The threat can be reasonably interpreted as threatening to the safety and security of the threatened individual because of his or her duties or employment status or status as a student inside the school.”

See: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=097-0340

The ability to discipline students for something which happened off school grounds often depends on whether there is a link between the misconduct and the school. The above revisions to the school code spell out ways in which that link can happen. For example, under the revised law, a student could be disciplined for posting a threat while off school grounds if the threatened person is related to the school or the threat was accessible to third parties at school when the threat was made.

If you have questions about this or another school law matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

“I SHOULDN’T HAVE POSTED THAT!:” SOCIAL MEDIA AND SCHOOL RESIDENCY

Most parents are vaguely aware of the dangers of social media such as Facebook, at least when it comes to their kids. Ill-advised remarks or embarrassing photos on a Facebook page can lead to your child’s suspension at school or rejection from a college.

But students are not the only ones who must watch what they do in cyber world. Parents in danger of a school residency challenge should post with care. Recently, a Tennessee mother frustrated with her sons let the residency cat out of the bag. (http://rivals.yahoo.com/highschool/blog/prep_rally/post/Tennessee-team-vacates-wins-after-mom-8217-s-Fa?urn=highschool-wp6392.)

In the Tennessee incident, high school athletic association rules required that all members of a family reside within the county in order for students to be eligible to play on the high school football team. The two sons had transferred to the new school, and the team had won several games. Then, the athletic association learned that the sons were not eligible for the new school’s team as the mother was still living in the original school’s county. And officials learned this fact from the mother’s own Facebook post:

“… the mother actually works in Henry County, and she posted on her Facebook page that she sent the kids back to Perry County for the week and that she would not see them again until Friday night….Then, later on her Facebook page, she posted, ‘How can two boys mess up their room as badly as they do when they’re only here on Saturday and Sunday?'” (http://rivals.yahoo.com/highschool/blog/prep_rally/post/Tennessee-team-vacates-wins-after-mom-8217-s-Fa?urn=highschool-wp6392.)

As a result, the team’s first three wins of the season were vacated. The story even made the United Kingdom Daily Mail. That is pretty embarrassing, but in suburban Chicago, the consequences could have been much more severe. Suburban schools are actively on the watch for students who do not legitimately reside in their district. Any parent who gives false information about their residency to a school can be charged with a criminal offense. Non-resident students can be removed from school and their parents can be stuck with a steep tuition bill.

If you have questions about this or another school law matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

REGISTERING YOUR CHILD FOR SCHOOL CAN BE RISKY BUSINESS

It’s back to school time for many families, and along with it comes the hassle of registration. But as financial pressures on schools increase, so does the pressure to ensure that only residents of a school district are attending the school.

This means stiffer requirements on parents to prove residency in their school district. Worse still, more and more schools are suing parents for tuition and pressing criminal charges.

If you lie about your residency status to a school district in Illinois, you can be charged with providing false information, a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. One Ohio mother was jailed for 9 days for tampering with official records, according to the Chicago Tribune. In Illinois, Orland Park successfully prosecuted a father for providing false information about residency to its district and is now suing to recoup $24,208 in tuition costs.

Because a criminal case has a higher burden of proof than a civil case, it is critical that you fight the criminal case. Once you are found guilty of lying in the criminal case, that finding might be binding in the civil case. You may not be able to reopen the question of your guilt. Parents can be liable for 110% of the cost of educating their child.

Of course, not all parents accused of wrongfully registering their children are guilty. There can be some very good reasons why you don’t appear to live in the district when you actually do. Maybe you can no longer afford your home in your old district, but have been unable to sell it. Maybe you don’t have a lot of personal belongings, so that your home doesn’t look “lived in” enough. Maybe you have a unique parenting arrangement.

In any case, if you are presented with the notice from the school that your child is wrongfully enrolled, contact an experienced attorney immediately. Do not attempt to resolve the matter yourself. Schools, at times, look for what they want to hear and may use your statements against you. An attorney can assess what evidence is necessary to prove you are a resident. Even if you are in the wrong, an attorney may be able to work out a deal with the school on your behalf.

If you have questions about this or another criminal or school law matter, contact Matt Keenan at matt@mattkeenanlaw.com or by calling 847-568-0160.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT CURFEW LAW IN ILLINOIS

Your son was out at a school party. After the party, he and some friends went to the park and hung around until after midnight. That’s when the police arrived. Now your son is charged with violating curfew, and you may be penalized as a result.

In Illinois, a child under the age of 17 violates curfew when he or she lingers or stays in a public place or even a private business during curfew hours. Curfew hours are from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings. Violating curfew is a petty offense carrying a fine up to $500, and a judge can order the parent to perform community service. A parent or guardian can also be charged with a curfew violation if they knowingly allow a minor to violate curfew.

Fortunately, there are many exceptions to this rule. Your child can be out during curfew hours if they are with you. Your child can stand on the sidewalk next to your or your neighbor’s house (provided the neighbor doesn’t call the police if it’s by their house). You can send your child to the store or on another errand and your child can keep a job, provided they do not detour in route. Other defenses include riding in a motor vehicle in interstate travel; being involved in an emergency; attending an official school, religious, civic or recreational function supervised by adults or exercising First Amendment rights.

When it comes to driving, curfew applies to licensed drivers under the age of 18 (rather than 17). You are not allowed to drive between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights or between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weeknights. However, many of the same exceptions to curfew apply to your driver’s license as well. You may drive if 1) you are accompanied by your parent or guardian or running an errand at their request, 2) involved in an emergency, 3) driving to or from a religious, recreational or school activity without making stops, 4) driving on the interstate, 5) going to or from work, 6) you are married or otherwise emancipated, or 7) you are exercising First Amendment rights.

Municipalities are allowed to enact their own regulations. The Village of Winnetka simply adopted the state’s law. In Evanston, however, the fine can be as much as $750. Curfew hours have also been tightened by one hour from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Evanston law allows a parent to delegate someone over age 21 to accompany their child. In Kenilworth, the parent-approved companion need only be 18. Glencoe allows a minor to attend any assembly activity “for which a permit has been lawfully issued.”

While under Illinois law, the parent commits an offense if they knowingly allow a minor to violate the law, the Village of Wilmette also penalizes a parent or guardian who “knowingly permits, or by insufficient control allows,” the minor to violate the law. Furthermore, if you are the owner or an employee of a business and you knowingly allow a minor to remain on your premises during curfew hours, you can be charged with a curfew violation. However, it is a defense if you notified the police when a minor is refusing to leave your premises.

If you are approached by police for a curfew violation, the officer must first ask your age and why you are out. Think carefully before responding. If you have a legitimate defense, the officer might not charge you. An officer may only charge you if they reasonably believe, based on your response, that you have no defense. However, without a defense, it may be better if you do not answer. An experienced attorney can better assist you if you have not already made admissions of guilt. Even if you have committed a curfew violation, an experienced criminal law attorney can help navigate the best strategy for your defense. If you are the parent, did you “knowingly” allow your child to violate curfew? At worst, an attorney may help negotiate a more beneficial plea agreement.

If you have questions about this or another related criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

WHY YOU NEED AN ATTORNEY FOR A SCHOOL RESIDENCY HEARING

You just received notice from your child’s school that they believe your child is not a legitimate resident of your district. You request a hearing on the matter. You believe you have nothing to fear since the truth is on your side, and once you explain your circumstances, you are sure the whole thing will simply go away.

Unfortunately, you go through the hearing, and to your surprise, the district hands you a tuition bill and removes your child from registration.

Time and time again, my clients call me after they have already gone through the residency hearing where I could have helped them the most cost-effectively. They naively believe if they can explain their situation, the school district will see the truth. Unfortunately, such clients misunderstand the reality of the school hearing process.

Once a hearing is requested, the school district appoints a hearing officer. At times, the hearing officer may be one of the district’s staff and can hardly be expected to render an unbiased decision. At times, the school appoints an independent hearing officer.

What the parent fails to understand is that either way the hearing officer benefits most by finding a reason to uphold the school’s position. After all, the school pays the hearing officer and may retain them on future cases if things go well. By the time the matter comes to hearing, the school has virtually made up its mind. If the hearing officer wants to keep getting appointments, he or she would do well to find a peg to hang the school’s hat on.

When a parent appears without an attorney, this signals the school district that the parent is not willing to put serious money behind their fight. Odds are once the hearing officer rules, the parent will not appeal that decision. Hence, the hearing officer believes the school has nothing to lose even if the decision is wrong.

This is not to say that hearing officers are corrupt and dishonest. There are many fine individuals who take their jobs seriously. But the reality is they are more likely to keep getting that job if they see the school’s point of view.

Coming to the hearing with an attorney can signal that you are serious about contesting the school’s finding. An attorney can also help present the evidence most favorable to your case.

If you have questions about this or another school law topic, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email
matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

NEW ILLINOIS CRIMINAL LAW ON SEXTING OFFENSES GOES EASIER ON TEENS

As everyone knows, the teenage years are not easy what with raging hormones and immature judgment. So you were dismayed, but not completely surprised, when your son reacted to a breakup with his girlfriend by texting her nude photo to his best friends. Now he is charged with a sexting offense. Luckily for him, however, Illinois has just implemented a new, more lenient law as of January 1, 2011 for those under age 17 who commit sexting offenses.

Sexting is the electronic transmission of nudity or obscene photos to another party. Even texting nude pictures of yourself can be a crime. Before the new law, prosecutors were forced to charge young offenders under stricter pornography laws that could have resulted in a lifetime designation as a sex offender. The new law tries to address the problems that arise when the development of technology outpaces the development of the adolescent brain.

Under the new law, any minor under age 17 who knowingly electronically transmits materials depicting nudity or other sexual conduct is subject to a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,500 fine. If you are under 17 and you knowingly request another minor to sext for you, you can be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. If you post the image on the Internet or a website for at least 24 hours with the intent of injuring another’s reputation or causing emotional distress, the charge stiffens to a Class 4 felony, punishable by imprisonment for 1 to 3 years.

The new law also permits a Judge to order an offender into a diversion program, such as counseling, that would look at the problems, which led to the sexting offense. If a minor commits a second violation, the Court can forbid the defendant the use of any electronic telecommunications device for up to six months other than for emergencies.

If you have questions about sexting or know someone who is facing sexting charges in Illinois, please feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

“MY SCHOOL WON’T LET ME HAVE AN ATTORNEY!”: WHEN YOU ARE ACCUSED OF VIOLATING THE STUDENT CODE OF CONDUCT

You just received the notice. Your professor is turning you on an alleged charge of plagiarism, based on the results of an on-line tool. You know you didn’t do it. Or if there is a match, it was purely accidental. You want to fight the charge. But you looked up your school’s student code of conduct, and the policy manual specifically states that you cannot have an attorney.

Are you really stuck handling this on your own? What can you do?

Colleges and universities vary on the level of participation that an attorney can assume in an academic discipline proceeding. Some schools allow full participation with an attorney present at a hearing conducted much like a courtroom trial. Some schools allow an attorney to attend the hearing, but only for the purpose of whispering suggestions into the student’s ear and not to speak. Some schools do not permit an attorney at any time.

If you have read that you cannot have an attorney, then you have already taken an important first step by examining your school’s policy and procedures. The student policy manual or code of conduct acts like a contract between you and the school. A careful reading of the manual will help you determine how your offense is defined as well as what procedure the school should follow. But even though you are not allowed to have an attorney during the disciplinary process, you may still seek advice. An attorney can help guide you to the best strategy for combating the charges against you.

Furthermore, while an attorney may not be able to appear at a hearing, an attorney can help you draft any written responses that you need to submit to your school.

If you have been charged with an academic offense or have any questions about this topic, please feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or by emailing matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.
.

“I AM DIVORCED. WHERE CAN MY CHILD GO TO SCHOOL?”: ILLINOIS RESIDENCY LAW

You and your spouse are divorced. You get along exceptionally well, so well that you share custody of your child. Since you live in the better school district, you enrolled your child where you live. Now, you have received notice from the school that they believe your child is not truly a resident and they wish to remove your child from enrollment.

What are your rights and what can you do?

In Illinois, a child has a right to a tuition-free education in the district where the child’s parent or guardian resides. A guardianship may not be awarded to a friend or non-parent relative solely to allow the child to attend school in a given district. In other words, you cannot give your sister legal custody of your child for the sole purpose of your child attending school in your sister’s district.

If you are divorced and have legal custody by court order, your child may attend school in your district. This does not always prevent some schools from developing suspicions about your child’s actual residence, however, and you may still have to prove that your child’s fixed nighttime abode is actually with you and not the other parent.

The situation can become more complicated if you have joint custody, or if you and the other parent were never married, but informally share custody of the child. The Illinois school statute does not seem to have contemplated such modern beneficial living arrangements. After all, if your child splits their time between parents, how do you prove which home is your child’s real nighttime abode? Fortunately, in situations with joint custody, you are generally allowed to make an election once a year as to which residence controls for school purposes. If you have no formal custody arrangement, the situation can become more problematic. You may still have to prove which parent’s residence should control.

If the school believes your child is not a resident, the school must first send you notice by certified mail. You then have ten days to request a formal hearing to provide the evidence necessary to show where your child actually lives. We advise that you have an attorney assist you with the hearing as school districts sometimes take advantage of unrepresented parents who believe the matter should be simple since they have nothing to hide. If the parent loses the hearing, the school may remove deregister your child and even charge the parent tuition.

If you have any questions about this or a similar school-related issue, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

‘I DIDN’T ASK FOR THESE!”: WHEN YOU ARE CHARGED WITH POSSESSING FORBIDDEN STUDY MATERIALS

You never even asked for it! All you did was obtain certain study materials from the professor as required for your course. Unbeknownst to you, however, the professor inadvertently left a copy of the classes’ upcoming exam tucked inside. You probably should have immediately returned the exam or at least told the professor. But you didn’t. Now, even though it wasn’t your mistake, the school has charged you with academic dishonesty.

Some schools consider that gaining access to test materials ahead of time allows a student to obtain an unfair advantage. Other offenses under this category can include stealing or defacing library materials, keeping a test that was supposed to be returned to the professor or otherwise interfering with another student’s work. Even though you may have received the forbidden material accidentally and may not have relied on it, schools often presume guilt if you did not immediately report what you found.

What can you do? If you are charged with academic dishonesty, there is still hope. An experienced attorney can help you determine the best avenue for a defense on procedural or substantive grounds. Did the school follow its own student policy manual procedures when charging you with the offense? The policy manual is like a contract between you and the school, and the school is largely bound by it.

Is the mere possession of the materials enough to sanction you? If not, can you make a convincing case that you did not rely on the materials or that you did not know you had them until it was too late? Should you have known the materials were unauthorized?

Even if you actually used the forbidden materials, you may still qualify for a less severe penalty. Perhaps you are generally of good character, but were under exceptional stress. Perhaps if you inadvertently obtained the materials, a letter of reprimand should be sufficient.

If you are charged with academic dishonesty, consult an attorney who practices school law right away. It is important to act quickly to preserve your rights. By attempting to explain yourself to the school, you may inadvertently cut yourself off from a valid defense by digging yourself into a hole. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact me at 847-568-0160 or email me at matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.
for advice.

“THEY SHOULD LET MY CHILD GRADUATE!”: WHEN YOUR CHILD IS BANNED FROM ATTENDING GRADUATION OR THE PROM.

Your son or daughter was suffering from a bad case of senioritis. So they joined in on a prank at school. Their prank did cause some trouble and expense. And you certainly believe they should accept responsibility. But still, you think the school is going overboard in barring your student from attending graduation after they had worked so hard to get there, just because of this one minor incident.

What can you do?

If you have just received notice of a discipline offense, then you are best advised to contact an attorney to guide you through the discipline procedure and help present your child’s case in the best possible light. An attorney can work with you to insure that the school follows its own guidelines procedurally and in how the school both defines and punishes the offense. Can the school prove your child committed the offense?

Avoid making statements to the school until you have consulted an attorney. While you may think your child’s explanation for his behavior is perfectly understandable, the school may not agree, and you may end up with a greater penalty taken against your child. Even worse, depending on the nature of the offense, your child may also be subject to criminal prosecution. Any statements you or your child makes to the school could end up as police evidence.

Even if you have already been through the discipline procedure, it may not be too late. Schools often have a lot of discretion about the penalties they impose. Depending on the offense, a skillful attorney may be able to negotiate with the school into allowing your student to attend graduation, or even the prom.

No matter where you are in the procedure, you and your student are best advised not to discuss this situation with anyone either in person, on the phone or electronically. Any Facebook discussions of the event could end up as evidence against your child.

It is imperative that you explore your options with a qualified attorney. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.